‘Hostile takeover’ shakes Kowie FM

JON HOUZET

RIVER Group has withdrawn from Kowie FM, in what has been called a “hostile takeover” by the community radio station’s founder, Robbie Blake.

This followed a tense AGM last Thursday, at which disgruntled former presenters at the station spoke out against River Group’s dominance and its condition that 50% of music content should be Christian, after it bailed out the station last year.

Some also questioned River Group’s appointment of two acting station managers who “know nothing about radio”, and the fact presenters were not being paid while sales and admin staff were getting 27.5% of revenue.

There was a proposal for a vote of no confidence in the board at the AGM but outgoing chairman Andre Roebert, the chief executive of the River Group, said it would be redundant as the present board’s term had come to an end.

Others in attendance voiced support for River Group’s investment in Kowie FM, as they had stepped in to save the station from closing down early last year.

A new board was voted in, with Blake receiving the most votes, and Roebert and fellow River Hotels director Carl Haller receiving the least and barely making it onto the 10-member board.

Roebert hastily called for a board meeting last Saturday at which he, Haller and two other board members, Dr Leon Nell and Wilma Jurgensen, resigned and announced River Group’s withdrawal from the station. The remaining board members elected Blake chairman.

Blake, who launched the station in 2009 with co-founder Dave Cherry, was Kowie FM’s first station manager. He withdrew from playing a prominent role at the station after suffering a stroke, but remained a board member.

When Kowie FM was financially floundering last year, Blake’s successor Duncan MacTaggart approached the River Group for assistance.

River Group has made several cash injections into the station since then, offsetting their loan with on-air advertising “at a premium”, according to Roebert. As of the financial year up to February 29 this year, River Group’s loan to the station totalled R314 313.

River Group’s only condition for financially assisting Kowie FM was for the station to play 50% Christian music content, a subject of contention at the AGM.

The station also reduced expenditure by cutting back on salaried staff and relying more on volunteers. In the first 18-month financial report, salaries accounted for two-thirds (R996 476) of expenditure.

To save costs, local programming was replaced with content from Link FM in East London, but Roebert said this was only intended as a temporary measure until the station became viable again.

Opponents of River Group’s oversight were outspoken at the AGM, and included former presenters Tando Mbuqe and David Mills.

Roebert issued a statement on Monday saying it appeared to be “Christians against non- Christians” when it came to voting in a new board.

“Our only intention has always been to keep Kowie FM broadcasting. But it looks like the tribe has spoken, albeit the minority who were adamant at the AGM to have full control of the station,” he said.

“If more Christians stood up strongly and took their stand like we did then together we could have said: ‘We want Christian music’. In a country that claims to be 80% Christian it is sad when the minority have a louder voice and a majority vote.

“We graciously withdraw our support and equipment at month end and wish the new directors all of the best for the future.”

Former board member Nell put it more bluntly.

“This was a hostile takeover by Robbie Blake,” he said. “He set it up that the AGM was stacked with disgruntled ex-DJ’s.”

Blake said he would not respond to such comments

“No changes to the current programme structure will take place within the next two weeks. Thereafter it will be up to the new station manager and the board to decide the way forward,” he said. “The restructuring of the station business model will need to be studied to decide on the sustainability of the station that reaches its third anniversary in September.”

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